Cloth Diapering Basics: A Guide to Getting Started

October 10, 2022

Cloth Diapering Basics

When I first looked into cloth diapering, there was so much I didn’t know! I had to research online for days to find all the information I needed and I still felt lost.

Cloth diapering is a whole different world for new moms and experienced moms alike. My hope is to guide you through all the cloth diapering basics. I will cover the types of cloth diapers, how to get started and everything in between.

Benefits of Cloth Diapers

  • Cloth diapering can save you a ton of money. I did a complete cost comparison here.
  • Cloth diapering is eco-friendly, disposable diapers end up in landfills.
  • Cloth diapers have been shown to cause less diaper rash; which makes for a very unhappy baby and mommy.
  • Cloth diapers don’t contain sodium polyacrylate like disposable diapers do. This is what absorbs the liquid and can cause skin reactions.
  • Cloth diapers actually reduce your baby’s risk of developing asthma. (Source)
  • There is so much less trash to take out. Diapers take up a lot of space!
  • Babies who wear cloth diapers usually learn to potty train faster because it is easier to notice when they are wet.
  • Cloth diapers are washed and re-used. You don’t have to worry about running to the store to get more.
  • They are so cute!

Types of Cloth Diapers

There are a ton of different kinds of cloth diapers. However, there are 4 main categories that almost all cloth diapers fall into.

The 4 basic types are:

  • Pre-folds/Flat Inserts and Covers
  • Fitted Diapers and Covers
  • Pocket Diapers
  • All In One Cloth Diapers

Pre-folds/Flat Inserts and Cover Cloth Diapers

These cloth diapers are the most basic type of cloth diapers you can find. Your parents or grandparents might actually recognize these.

You can actually buy these in a pre-folded version or a flat insert. The only difference is that the pre-folds have stitched lines so that they are much easier to fold to fit inside the diaper cover.
Once you have decided on pre-fold vs flat (I recommend pre-fold), you have to decide what you will use to secure the diaper on you baby.

Securing Options:

  • Pins
  • Covers
  • Snappy

The most old-fashioned version included flat inserts and pins. I do not recommend this though. This cloth diapering basics method is probably not going to keep much in the diaper. Using covers with your insert is much simpler that the pins or Snappy in my opinion.

This version of the cloth diapers is typically the cheapest and easiest to wash.The drawback is that these are typically the bulkiest and can look really strange on a tiny baby.

However, if you are trying to decide whether to start cloth diapering, this is where you should start. I started with an Econobum starter kit to see if I liked going cloth. The kit came with 3 one-size covers, 12 inserts and a small wet bag for less that $50. This is enough to cover you for 1 to 2 days before you need to wash them. You don’t have to change the cover every time you change the insert. This is because the covers can easily be wiped out if a little gets on them.

Fitted Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering basics - fitted diapers
Bumkins Fitted Diapers, Natural, Small

Fitted cloth diapers are more likely to be in different sizes since they are contoured to fit your baby’s body. This makes them the best when it comes to being leak proof, comfortable and less bulky.

The difference between these diapers and the pre-fold/flat liner and cover version is there is no folding necessary to make them fit your baby. The fitted diaper is basically a luxury version of a pre-fold.

The draw back with these is that they are not water-proof; so you will need to buy a cover for them as well.  Just like the pre-folds, you will need many more of the fitted diaper than you will the covers. The step up in quality from pre-folds makes these more expensive as well.

The covers are the waterproof piece of the diaper and are cleaned just like the covers of the pre-folds.

Pocket Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering basics - pcket diapers
Alva Baby Double Rrows of Snaps 6pcs Pack Fitted Pocket Washable Adjustable Cloth Diaper with 2 Inserts Each (Netural Color)6BM98

Pocket diapers are my favorite cloth diapers. The price – convenience trade-off is definitely worth it.

The general design of pocket diapers is similar to fitted diapers. The biggest difference is that the pocket diaper doesn’t need a cover because the outside portion is water-proof. The inner portion has a small pocket where you can slide a liner into it. This makes it so you can add a second one if you have a heavy wetter or for overnight. You can also adjust the liner further forward or back depending on your baby’s gender.

You can get them in a one-size with a snap closure. This means the only thing you have to worry about is putting the insert into the diaper before putting it on baby. Because the insert comes out, these diapers are faster to wash and dry. These cloth diapers are a little less bulky than the fitted diapers. The great part is that you can use them from birth until toilet training with the one-size fits all.

There is also an option to buy disposable liners if you want to try a halfway point between disposable and cloth diapers. The liners are also available in different sizes as your child grows. This is ideal so you don’t have the liner bunched up inside for your tiny baby or not enough coverage for a toddler.

All In One Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering basics - AIO
bumGenius Freetime One-Size All-In-One Cloth Diaper – Albert (Snap)

All In One Diapers are the most expensive out of the types but the quickest to use. You put these diapers on in the exact same way as you would a disposable. The only different is there are snaps instead of Velcro and you don’t throw it away.

The best part about the AIO is they can come as a one-size version and take absolutely no time to put on your baby. No extra pieces or folding is necessary. These are usually available is the cutest designs and styles.

The only real issue I’ve had with the diaper itself is that they can be really thick with. This makes washing and drying take a lot longer. Hand-washing these diapers would take even more effort and time to get them fully washed and rinsed. All of the other types can be easy to hand wash and line dry.

How Many Cloth Diapers do I Need to Buy?Cloth diapering basics - per day

To get started using cloth diapers, you are going to have to make an initial investment. I suggest starting small and adding diapers a little at a time to make sure you and your baby like them.

The question is, how many cloth diapers and inserts should you buy in the beginning. You want to make sure you have enough diapers to last you until you do laundry plus a few extra for while your diapers are washing and drying.

  • Babies of different ages go through diapers at a different rate as shown in the table to the right.
  • Babies have all have a different tolerance for dirty diapers. If you have a higher-maintenance baby, you will need a bigger cloth diaper stockpile.
  • How often can you or do you prefer to do laundry. If you have to go to the laundry mat every time to wash clothes, you’re going to need more diapers than if you have a washer and dryer available to do laundry as you please.

How Many Cloth Diapers do I Need

Cloth diapering basics - number needed
How to use this chart: Find the intersection of your baby’s age and the number of days between washes. This is the total number of cloth diapers you need.

Cloth Diapering Basics of Washing

I highly recommend not going more than a week before washing your cloth diapers unless you have a pail that you put them in to soak after using. The smell and bacteria are not something you want piling up.

If you want to wait a little longer; get a bucket of some sort that you can put in the laundry room, bathroom or other place out of baby’s reach. Put water and a little bit of bleach in it. Just throw the diapers in there after changing your little one.

Detergent Use for Cloth Diapering

If you are trying to decide which detergent to use with your cloth diapers, a great place to start is looking at this Detergent Chart. This chart  gives ratings for all kinds of detergents and what kind of chemicals it contains.

If you don’t want to buy detergent specifically designed for cloth diapers, go with something that is dye, chemical and fragrance free. I personally use All Free & Clear since it is safe and and a little cheaper than most.

Washing Cloth Diapers for the First Time

This applies to washing for the first time and every time after that, make sure to attach any Velcro pieces together. This will keep them from getting stuck to each other. Check all washing instructions in case your specific diapers need additional care and follow those instructions.

If you are using natural diapers like hemp, bamboo and others, you need to wash them separately. These contain natural oils that take a few washes to get rid of and will cause build up and less absorbency in your diapers.

Ironically, the more a cloth diaper is washed, the more absorbent it becomes. Wash and dry your diapers 3 to 5 times with hot water before using on your little one. Pre-washing also makes the fabric softer for your baby’s comfort.

Hand Washing Cloth Diapers

Hand washing cloth diapers really isn’t as difficult as it seems. But, hand washing can save you a ton of money on energy and water.

Steps to hand washing cloth diapers:

    1. Put on some long gloves.
    2. Fill a 5-gallon bucket or your bath tub up with enough warm water to fully cover your diapers.
    3. Add a little less detergent than you would if you were washing clothes in a machine.
    4. Dunk your diapers in the toilet or spray with a diaper sprayer or removable shower head to get rid of extra poop.
    5. Add all your diapers to the water.
    6. Use your hands to rub them together or a plunger to agitate the diapers.
    7. Empty the bucket/tub and get fresh water. Rub together or “plunge” just like you did to wash them.
    8. Repeat step 7.
    9. Take the diapers out of the water, squeeze them until they do not have any more water coming out of them.
    10. Dry your diapers

Cloth Diapering Basics of Drying

You can use a dryer to get your diapers dry in a hurry but there is definitely a benefit to line drying your cloth diapers. The sun is an amazing and safe bleaching agent. Line drying your cloth diapers in the sun will get rid of stains. Line drying can make diapers a little stiff. Throw them in the dryer for a minute to “fluff” them up a little.

Be sure to read your diaper labels clearly. Some say not to dry them in a machine. My covers specifically told me to line dry them.

Cloth Diaper Cleaning Service

You can use to find a cloth diaper cleaning service in your area. They have list of companies by state and city with links to each of their websites.

Most services offer different plans based on your lifestyle. Some even offer the diapers, covers and snaps with your package. If you already have the diapers bought and ready, they have more basic services as well that don’t include all of the extras.

The cloth diaper service closest to me has a new mommy package if you just want to try it out for 3 months. The cost is about $343. They pick up and deliver once per week and provide you with the diapers, 3 diaper covers, a diaper pail and fasteners. I personally, wouldn’t spend the money on a service like this because I started cloth diapering to save money.

Cloth Diapering Basic Accessories

If you are going to be a Cloth Diapering Mommy, there are a few essentials you may need other than the actual cloth diapers to make your life easier.

  • Cloth Wipes.
  • Diaper Pail with a Large Wet Bag.
  • Small Wet Bag for your Diaper Bag.
  • Diaper Sprayer or Removable Shower Head.

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